Shore residents will have the opportunity to speak to the state for the first time about the emergency order determining new building heights following Hurricane Sandy, but don’t expect those words to mean much.
The public hearing Thursday in Long Branch is being held as a technicality because the new rule already is in effect, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese.
“People can speak on the emergency rule. It’s not going to be on the other rebuilding issues,” he said.
Gov. Chris Christie issued the order in late January to help reduce some of the uncertainty many homeowners with storm-damaged properties felt regarding how to rebuild. The order adopted advisory base flood elevation maps as the state standard for rebuilding. But for those residents who houses were damaged enough that they have to rebuild to meet new codes, the order ended up creating a new level of uncertainty, particularly for those whose houses were in newly designated high risk velocity zones.
However, as soon as new flood elevation data are released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency sometime this summer, the new levels and zones will replace the advisory data as rebuilding standards, the state has said.
The advisory maps released in December had strong science behind the new required flood heights, but there was no data behind the new velocity zones because a wave analysis data model had yet to be completed.
“The governor’s reason to adopt this was to give people some means of predicting the future,” Ragonese said.
A group of Atlantic and Cape May county officials formed a coalition shortly after Christie announced the order as a way to make sure the future maps consider the risk nuances for many of the properties that were put into the v-zones.
Among the most contested newly created zones are on the north end of Brigantine, parts of Ventnor Heights and sections of Margate, all areas that are several blocks from the water. Other areas include lagoon properties in Ocean City and Little Egg Harbor, where there are only a few yards of open water.
Margate solicitor John Scott Abbott said the coalition, which has met several times, hired Stockton College coastal sciences expert Stewart Farrell as a technical adviser.
The coalition has since met with the engineers designing the maps, Abbott said. Abbott said he feels hopeful the velocity zones will be rolled back significantly in the preliminary maps, which could be released as early as June.
Monday, Farrell explained to a rare joint session of the Senate and Assembly environment committees that wave energy in the bay will always be significantly less than a wave of similar height in the ocean. Simply put, Farrell said, the bay is too small for the wind to create enough power.
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